California Memories

Would I do it all again?

Sometimes we surprise ourselves by taking a leap into the unknown. Sometimes life throws up an opportunity too good to resist.

It happened to me in 1997.

One minute I was just a normal wife and mother of five, the next I was flying 5000 miles across the world to meet someone I knew only by virtue of an online  writer’s club, by myself. Ok, I know having five children is not classed as strictly ‘normal’ but you get the picture.

What possessed me to do such a thing? Heaven only knows. The opportunity arose and with the encouragement of my husband, I took it.

To be truthful, when I had originally been asked to go, I had thought my husband would be with me. The idea almost dive bombed when he explained that he couldn’t get all that time off work and he would need to look after the children in any case.

“I can’t go on my own!” I protested.

“Yes you can,” he insisted.

“I don’t think I can leave the children,” I wailed.

“Yes you can,” he insisted.

“I can’t go for three weeks!” I squeaked.

“Yes you can,” he insisted.

(‘Bob the Builder’ liked this phrase so much I think he tweaked it and pinched it)

So, here I was, flying across the ocean and over the Rockies to California. I had almost turned back as I prepared to head for the departure lounge at Heathrow when my five-year old son gave me an enormous hug saying,

“I’ll miss you mummy.”

To this day I don’t know how I did it. I have an inkling of course. I think I had something to prove to myself. For the past seventeen years I had been bringing up our children. I hadn’t travelled much alone and I certainly hadn’t ever flown alone. I wanted to prove that I could. I wanted to prove that I could be independent and look after myself just as I used to, before children, before marriage.

What sort of mid-life crisis was this? I can smile now. Most of my friends of the same age were taking up new hobbies, new jobs, none were trekking half way round the world on a whim.

Arriving in San Francisco eleven hours later, travel weary, goggle eyed from channel hopping on the in-flight television and convinced it was past my bedtime, I realised I had flown back eight hours and had to re-live most of Thursday.

I scanned the airport foyer for a sign of the online writer friend whose picture I held in my hand. I was looking for a slightly built, blonde haired lady. My eyes settled on a plumper version of the same with frizzy straw coloured hair crushed beneath a floppy straw -boater. It had to be her though she bore little resemblance to her photograph. I hoped I bore more resemblance to mine!

The events of the entire trip would fill a book which I fully intend to write one day. Be thankful you are just getting a snippet here. The book will come later.

As soon as I set foot in San Francisco, I knew I was right to come. Once properly introduced, my new friend and I set off in a battered VW camper van in the direction of San José where we would be staying.

I could write so much about the first few hours but this isn’t the place. Instead, I will just say that after two days of jet lag and of being regaled with TV re-runs of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ and ‘Doctor Who’ as my hostess tried to make me feel at home, I awoke feeling almost human again.

Two things amazed me about my visit, apart from the wide smiles of the restaurant and motel staff as they cheerfully exhorted,

“Have a nice day, now!” whenever I so much as breathed; the first was an intense interest in anything English shown by everyone I met and the second, the question that seemed to be on everyone’s lips,

“Do you get a lot of fog over there?”

Having sat through the re-runs of all those dubious British dramas, I could only assume that these people imagined England to be in the same state as the London of Victorian times was commonly depicted, smog bound and grey.

We don’t actually get a lot of fog here at all really. Ironically, my first trip to the Golden Gate Bridge was a disappointment due to San Francisco being covered in a blanket of fog. I went back a day or two later and crossed it in the sunshine. It lived up to its name.

We travelled through the Napa Valley and camped in the Redwoods – oh the stories I could tell but they will just have to wait for another day.

For reference, sometime soon, I really must tell you about:

  1. The man-mountain Sherriff I had to approach for help only to find myself in the midst of ‘an incident’.
  2. Travelling through the Napa Valley on the strength of my credit card.
  3. Camping with some ne’er-do-well lumberjack types.
  4. Travelling along Highway 1 – trying to steer from the passenger seat whilst crazy friend removed her jacket.
  5. Eating at Sinbad’s by the Bay Bridge.
  6. My friend’s Grandmother.
  7. My friend’s mother and the tomb of dolls.
  8. My trip to the “The Original Oprey House” in Los Gatos.
  9. Pushing my suddenly wheelchair bound friend along a railway track (This one will take some explaining).


It was a truly memorable time.

So, would I do it all again?

No, I don’t think I would. These days common sense would kick in long before I set off. I mean, my ‘friend’ could have been an axe murderer. She could have been as mad as a hatter – actually, she was but then maybe I am too!

Am I glad I did it?

You bet I am!

After all, I proved I could.

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


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